Pocketbook Patent

Posted May 22, 2007 at 6:38pm

The debate over a revamp to the nation’s patent laws seems to have gotten personal.

The effort pits the technology industry against the pharmaceutical sector, and some lobbyists who oppose big pharma have pointed to the personal assets of one Republican who sits on the House committee of jurisdiction. [IMGCAP(1)]

Ever since Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) recused himself two years ago from a bill that involved drug companies — because of his stock holdings in the industry — lobbyists have been skeptical of his work toward patent reform. And those advocates pushing for a bill sponsored, in part, by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) say their Sensenbrenner concerns were certainly not put to rest at last week’s subcommittee markup of the bill.

According to one Democratic Judiciary Committee aide, “for reasons known only to himself, Mr. Sensenbrenner required that” Berman read his manager’s amendment, in its entirety, in order for it to be considered.

Instead the subcommittee on courts, the Internet and intellectual property passed the original bill, but, the committee aide said, it “prevented a number of things that people wanted from being in the bill.”

But Sensenbrenner’s spokesman, Rajesh Bharwani, said Sensenbrenner’s holdings in the pharmaceutical industry had zilch to do with his concerns for the patent bill, which is awaiting full committee consideration.

Sensenbrenner has some $2 million in assets in Abbott Laboratories, Merck & Co. and Pfizer, according to the Member’s personal financial disclosure report.

That’s a Wrap. Gayle Osterberg, a former aide to then-Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) who has spent the past two years as a vice president at the Motion Picture Association of America, has a new project in development. She is leaving MPAA on Friday and by next week will premiere her new firm: 133 Public Affairs.

The 133 is a nod to Nickles’ Senate office room number, Osterberg explained. “I never thought about the name until it was time to file paperwork,” she said. “It was actually a more difficult process than I expected.” She chose 133 because the Nickles office “was a space that I spent a lot of time in, and I associate it with having fun, hard work and doing good things.”

Osterberg plans to bring on a partner, whom she declined to name, this fall. In the meantime, her clients will include the MPAA and New York’s Rogues Harbor Studios, which is set to release a new documentary called “Shoot Down,” about a 1996 incident where Cuban fighter jets shot down civilian aircraft.

Collateral Damage. Dubious U.S. allies, lax Congressional oversight, and billions of U.S. dollars procured with a politician-cum-lobbyist hand. It’s a Washington, D.C., story as common as gawking tourists in the rotunda.

This time, The Center for Public Integrity has applied it to the amount of American military aid going to foreign governments — some with suspect human rights records — and its seeming correlation to the amount of lobbying money spent by those governments.

“We saw the lobbying money that was creating flows of money to countries and when we talked to members of Congress, they were not even aware of some of this,” said Bill Buzenberg, the center’s executive director, after a briefing about the report and Web site released Tuesday.

The Web site — which includes a country-by-country database breaking out various military receipts and influence expenditures — shows some of those efforts, at least by the numbers, appeared to have paid off.

According to the center, Turkey managed to increased its U.S. military aid receipts over 240 times in the three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, compared with the three years before, and spent nearly $10 million on lobbying efforts during the latter period.

Ethiopia, however, fared quiet a bit worse, appearing to actually lose money on the venture. During the six years covered in the report — 1999 to 2004 — the African country’s “influence spending” amounted to just over $24 million. Yet its receipt of military aid was less than $18 million, the report revealed.

Foreign Agents Registration Act reports show that during that period, the Ethiopian government hired DLA Piper, but officials said it was for reasons other than increasing military aid.

“The only appropriations work we have done has been on humanitarian issues,” said partner Gary Klein. “We have never done any work on military aid.”

While the center’s Web site — which also lists human-rights violations leveled by the State Department — does contain a disclaimer stating “these [influence spending] totals should not be interpreted as representing amounts spent exclusively on “lobbying,” CPI officials pressed the sentiment that foreign countries knew their goals.

“Governments aren’t dumb,” said Nathaniel Heller, who managed the $350,000 JEHT Foundation-sponsored project. “They know how the game is played.”

Hands Free. Imagine going to the airport with absolutely no bags, and arriving at your final destination — a hotel, your home — and finding your luggage already there. As you made your voyage, your bags took a similar trip, for a price, courtesy of a private company like Universal Express.

This is the goal of Universal Express’ CEO Richard Altomare, and he wants the government to help make the scenario the norm. While he talks up the convenience of having no baggage, Altomare is pushing a security angle. “Why can’t a suitcase bomb go off in any airport?” he asked. “What’s to stop someone from blowing it up before they get through [airport] security.”

To push this message, he has created the Coalition for Luggage Security, which includes other shipping company members, to try to convince Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to be as worried as he is. “I don’t want them to legislate after a suicide bomb goes off at an airport,” he said.

He started the coalition, he said, because “I’m in the luggage business and people would think I’m doing this for profit.” And he would profit. Currently, it costs between $40 and $60 each way to have a bag shipped to its destination. Altomare said if all travelers used his service, because of the volume, he could get that cost down to $10 or $15.

Altomare is looking for government grants to start a test project and said he has gotten inquiries from Members. But he declined to name names.